Thursday, 22 May 2014

How should DFID approach health systems strengthening?

The UK Parliament's International Development Committee recently launched an enquiry into the approach that the UK Department for International Development (DFID) takes to health systems strengthening. The committee noted that:
DFID's approach supports targeted cost-effective interventions and seeks to ensure that these interventions support the longer term development of a health system fit to meet the needs of the population. In some circumstances this means supporting private sector providers (for-profit or non-profit, formal or informal) to deliver more good quality essential health commodities and services to poor people, and helping to strengthen the capacity of governments to regulate these provides and to finance use of the services by the poor. 
The International Development Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry into this topic to examine how effectively in practice DFID is implementing its objectives.
The steering committee of the Future Health Systems research consortium prepared written evidence for submission to the committee. In our response we highlighted four four critical health systems strengthening areas:
  •  scaling effective interventions - DFID has emphasised generating rigorous evidence about interventions. However, much of this evidence describes whether an intervention has worked, with less attention given to why. Our experience has led us away from a model of linear scaling up of proven ideas toward treating health systems as complex adaptive systems.
  •  engaging health markets - health markets have spread quickly. The important question is not should DFID be engaging with these health market systems, but rather howbest to do so.
  •  unlocking community assets for health - community members are often the best experts to consult on the most effective strategies for improving their health. The empowerment of community members, however, needs to be matched by accountability mechanisms to the communities.
  •  building capacity - FHS puts capacity development at the heart of health systems strengthening. Without local research capacity, iterative cycles of learning and implementation would be impossible to maintain.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Graduation and Social Protection conference: What did we learn?

The Graduation and Social Protection conference closed in Kigali on Thursday 8 May, with a series of 46 ‘Learning Insights and Action Points’ distilled from the 10 sessions. (These will be posted on the conference website soon.)

Key conclusions included the following:
  1. Graduation that is defined as exiting from a social protection programme after a certain time period, or after reaching a threshold level of income or assets, risks having people falling back into poverty when the support is withdrawn and the next shock hits them.
  2. Graduation that is achieved by combining social protection and livelihood development (such as asset transfers and access to finance) has a greater chance of providing people with sustainable livelihoods after they leave the programme.
  3. The most effective approaches require cross-sectoral coordination, so that households do not exit from social protection support into ‘no support’, but instead move from social assistance to accessing a broader range of social services and economic opportunities.
  4. The linear pathway to graduation that is implied in many graduation model programmes fails to recognise that livelihoods are not linear, and that the primary functions of social protection are to provide life-long insurance and to build resilience over the life-cycle.
  5. The achievements of successful graduation programmes should be put into context. Most participants move from extreme poverty to moderate poverty – so they remain poor – they remain self-employed, and many ultra-poor people will never have the potential to graduate.
  6. Stakeholders have different attitudes to graduation. While some believe that graduation is essential to reduce dependency and maximise poverty reduction impacts, others believe that the focus on graduation distracts attention away from the core functions of social protection.
  7. Political commitment is crucial for programmes to succeed, but too much political pressure can result in premature graduation, and can undermine the government’s commitment and responsibility to provide basic welfare and safety nets to all citizens and residents.
  8. A disaggregated and context-specific approach to social protection and graduation is called for. Social protection systems should provide a permanent safety net for some poor and vulnerable people, and an opportunity to graduate out of poverty for others.

An innovative feature of the conference was the addition of a one-day workshop on Friday 9 May, organised by the Social Protection Sector Working Group for Government of Rwanda officials who are engaged with social protection. The Conference Directors interacted with these officials about the implications of the graduation conference for social protection thinking and practice in Rwanda. This workshop provided a rare opportunity for the deliberations of an international conference to be taken forward into implications for policy and programmes, discussed with and by national policy-makers, immediately after the conference ended.

by Stephen Devereux

 Stephen Devereux is convenor of the Growth & Social Protection theme of Future Agricultures. He is Co-Director of the international conference on ‘Graduation and Social Protection’, which was co-hosted by the Government and Rwanda and the Centre for Social Protection at IDS, with financial support from Irish Aid, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF. Other blog posts from the conference can be found on the IDS Vulnerability & Poverty team blog.

Adverts: a window on the world

Adverts have always presented iconic images that reflect current values, priorities and aspirations. They offer a window on the world of commerce, business and consumption. Idealised and often imagined for sure, but nevertheless revealing of changing cultures of consumptions and associated social imaginaries. Indeed there are vast literatures in cultural studies, anthropology and geography that discuss such issues.

Recently I came across a fascinating archive of Rhodesian adverts, collected as part of one the slightly bizarre Rhodesian memorabilia sites that are scattered across the Internet (this one was 'Rhodesia Remembered' where I found 'The Story of Triangle' linked in an earlier blog). The advert archive offers a window onto white Rhodesian life from the 1930s to the 70s. Travel by plane, new 'modern' cars, food stuffs from England, and land for farming and mining all feature. A few examples are below. Representing a vision of modern life in Africa, the images are telling. This was an elite life, with firm links to the old country.

advert2 advert4 advert3 advert1

What then of today? A quick look through the classified pages in the major newspapers and websites offers a very different picture. While the aspirational lifestyle adverts are still there, most are about daily life and business. Selling or hiring trucks, offering land for building, providing services for farming and so on, as well as a whole array of farm products, finance services etc.

For some reason I am on a e-mail list from Matebeland that, in addition to offering training courses in horticulture, pig rearing and the like, also is used for advertising. Here are the three most recent in my inbox, focusing on irrigation systems, day old chicks and potato production.

GREEN-HOUSE CONSTRUCTION COST. BSC IRRIGATION SYSTEMS, is in business of constructing standard gum pole green-house structures at the following cost: $10.45 per square metre this cost includes (fix and supply) with the following materials: gum poles treated and untreated greenhouse plastics 200 or 250um (micron) drip irrigation set-up ( infield) general items: nails, bolts and nuts, trellissing wire for tomatoe crop labour construction and drip irrigation installation. Logistics discount can be agreed between farmer and BSC irrigation Systems depending with the green-house structure size>the above cost does not include inputs: fertilizers, seed, chemicals, day to day labour cost. plse call,,,,

Broiler day old chicks (Ross and Cobb 500) for sale, $75 cash, $85 half down and $95 $20 down. 38 000 chicks available tomorrow, 20 000 available Friday. Women Poultry Farmers. Get in touch with me on…
Sack Potato Production Training Workshop (Bulawayo)-ZCFU (Zimbabwe Commercial farmers Union) in conjunction with Gem Agriculture Consultancy Services. Training Venue: ZCFU Offices, Adjacent to NUST Sports Fields/ Opposite Khumalo suburb. Investment: $20 to cover meals/ refreshment, training manual and certification. Funding opportunities for the crop will be also availed, including an update on input supply status in the region.

This is far from a systematic sample, but indicative I think of the way small-scale commercial farming is taking off in Zimbabwe. Email lists, facebook and twitter are used to get in touch with people; multiple websites are available for adverts; small private companies and consultancies are popping up, with links with more formal organisations like farmer unions. And everyone it seems needs irrigation equipment and the ubiquitous one-tonne truck, hence my nominations of these for appearing on any new currency.

These adverts are a far cry from those appearing in the Rhodesiana archive, but offer an equally illuminating view of a very different world.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

Friday, 16 May 2014

Learning from Great Transformations Past and Present

Reflecting on Karl Polanyi at the Resilience 2014 Conference

In June 2013, I served on the Scientific Steering Committee of the international conference on Transformation in a Changing Climate, which was held at the University of Oslo. One of my duties for that event was to facilitate a 'deep conversation' on the 'Economics of Transformation' to explore what transformation of socio-ecological systems would look like from an economic perspective. Feeling that the politics of transformation were being largely neglected in the conference proceedings, I decided to introduce some of the ideas of the Hungarian political historian Karl Polanyi, particularly his pioneering The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1944), in which he traced the establishment of laissez-faire capitalism in the nineteenth century and its transformation in the first half of the twentieth century into various forms of integrated societies, with the economy controlled in different ways and to different extents by the state. My aim was to use Polanyian insights to provoke debate on how the market fundamentalism of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century had come to dominate economic and political discourse and social systems around the world. We were experiencing lock-in to an unjust and in some respects ungovernable economic and financial system on a grand scale which was leading to increasing instability, inequality and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.
I put it to the conference delegates that Polanyi understood that modern market economy is a special, historically rooted form of social organisation. It is not a natural, universal system for organising societies, as its champions assert. It is, in fact, an historical aberration in the long sweep of human history – one that has produced many benefits, to be sure, but it has also introduced deep structural tensions that today threaten to overwhelm human societies. When 'the Great Transformation' occurred, Polanyi argued, markets became regarded as autonomous forces – 'self-regulating systems' – in their own right. The presumption was that these market forces should organise all of society. We have been dealing with the consequences ever since.
These interventions were well received and sparked considerable discussion among the participants. Afterwards I had a coffee with two of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic contributors to that session – David Manuel-Navarrete of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University and Maja Göpel of Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Berlin – who shared my passion for Polanyi and my interest in injecting more historically informed, political economic analysis into debates on sustainability and transformation. We agreed to prepare a proposal to convene a special panel on Polanyi for the upcoming Resilience 2014 conference, which was to be held in Montpellier, France, in May the following year and focus on 'Mobilizing for Transformation'. On Maja's advice, we invited another Polanyi enthusiast, Moritz Remig at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, to join our small circle.
I am now writing this note on my flight back from Montpellier, back to the STEPS Centre in the UK. David, Maja and Moritz were able to convince the Resilience 2014 organisers to allow us to organise our 'dialogue panel' session on 'Towards a Sustainable and Socially Just Transformation: Reflections on Karl Polanyi and the Emergence of New Forms of Governance and Social Relations in Uncertain Times'. To our surprise, they gave us a premium time slot and we played to a packed house.
I kicked off proceedings with a brief overview framing the debate and introducing some of Polanyi's key concepts from The Great Transformation – the 'stark utopia of the market', the 'double movement' of the self-regulating market and social protection, 'fictitious commodification' of land, labour and money and related ideas. This was followed by three rapid-fire presentations by the rest of the team, picking up some of those themes and applying them to different aspects of the resilience and transformation agenda. Together they addressed:
  • Polanyi's counter-movement concept and it's relation to polycentric governance and socio-ecological systems (David)
  • Well-being in the economic 'gain' system and the need for 're-purposing' the system (Maja)
  • Moving from fictitious commodification of 'land' to behavioural incentives for ecosystem services management (Moritz)
Together we argued that if Polanyi were alive today, he would recognise our crisis-ridden, neoliberal moment all too well, as he would see it as a further, intensified stage of the nineteenth century's profound shift to market rationality – in a way, a second Great Transformation. Of course, this is not the kind of transformation that those attending the Resilience 2014 Conference or our particular session are seeking, but it is the one we are facing today.
According to Polanyi, prior of the rise of the market as an ordering principle for society, politics and social norms were the prevailing forces of governance. land, labour and money were not regarded chiefly as commodities to be bought and sold. They were embedded in social relationships, and subject to the moral consideration, religious beliefs and community management. The basic dilemma is that the free market cannot self-regulate itself. A laissez-faire economy is, in fact, planned. It necessarily needs government management and social control. In addition, because markets treat nature as essentially limitless and human beings and their labour as commodities, they are always pushing human societies and nature to the breaking point. Invariably, crises erupt that require societal interventions. The relentless imperatives of markets cannot prevail indefinitely against the irreducible needs of people or nature.
At our Resilience 2014 session, we argued that Polanyi's ideas offer a promising basis for a more integrated structural analysis that connects the three key dimensions of our present crisis – the economic, the social and the ecological – and opens up opportunities for a critical reflection on governance solutions that might help bring about more 'sustainable transformations' at a time of increasing complexity and uncertainty.
In our session, we posed a number of questions that, because of time limitations, we were not able to address in any depth. Nevertheless, we think they will need to be examined if we are to move away from the current market lock-in and towards more sustainable and socially just transformations:
  • From an embedded system perspective, how can more resilient socio-ecological systems and governance arrangements emerge that resist the power of the overarching market system that promotes fictitious commodification? Following Polanyi, how can markets become re-embedded in social relations, and how can social forces affect these?
  • Taking a closer look at the 'human' part of coupled human-environment relations or socio-ecological systems, how do findings from wellbeing studies relate to the market system's drive for ever-more productivity and competition of social processes that affect people's relationship with nature and ecological processes?
  • How can governance solutions for ecosystem services bring about resilience if they do not break with the path dependencies of current forms of commodification? What can approaches like Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) teach us?
The enthusiastic response of the session participants to our arguments indicated to us that there is room to enlarge the scope of the Resilience and Transformation conversation by include insights from the work of Karl Polanyi. Thinking through the profound implications of his key ideas might offer a way to avoid getting bogged down in stale debates about 'states vs. markets' and instead enlarge the repertoire of political and governance innovations available to us so that we can begin to configure a more fundamental renegotiation of the relationship between economic and social systems – one that is less 'gain' driven and more 'gemeinschaftlich' – while taking account of their dynamic interactions with ecological systems.
By John Thompson, STEPS Centre Food and Agriculture Convenor
More from the STEPS Centre at Resilience 2014

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The power and politics around ‘objective’ performance monitoring

water-ethiopPerformance monitoring, most prominently exemplified in the Millennium Development Goals, is often perceived as providing objective results. Using the case of access to rural water supplies in Ethiopia, a new journal article (£) by STEPS alumna Katharina Welle explores the power and political dynamics inherent in sector performance monitoring.

Welle, K. (2014) Monitoring performance or performing monitoring? Exploring the power and political dynamics underlying monitoring the MDG for rural water in Ethiopia, Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 35(1)

Photo: Water containers, Konso by rod_waddington on Flickr (cc-by-sa)

Mariana Mazzucato on ‘The Green Entrepreneurial State’: video, audio & slides

Mariana Mazzucato gave a public lecture on ‘The Green Entrepreneurial State’ as part of this year’s STEPS Summer School. Audio, video and slides from her talk are now available (see below).

Prof Mazzucato is the author of the book ‘The Entrepreneurial State: public vs private sector myths’. She holds the prestigious RM Phillips chair in the Economics of Innovation at SPRU in the University of Sussex. She was recently Scientific Coordinator of a 3 year European Commission funded FP7 project on Finance, Innovation and Growth (FINNOV), and is currently working on two new research projects on finance and innovation, one funded by the Ford Foundation, and the other by the Institute for New Economic Thinking.Mariana Mazzucato: The Green Entrepreneurial State by Stepscentre on Mixcloud


Video (watch on YouTube):

Presentation slides:

Grassroots fabrication in makerspaces: the importance of culture, context & relationships

Grassroots innovation workshopOn Thursday 10th April 2014, the Grassroots Innovations project organised a half-day World Café workshop in Copenhagen on the topic of grassroots fabrication in makerspaces. It formed one session within a wider conference exploring an 'Innovative Civil Society' and hosted by the international Living Knowledge network of science shops.

Makerspaces are one of the case studies in our project Grassroots Innovation: historical and comparative perspectives, led by STEPS researcher Adrian Smith.

Research Briefing 23 (pdf) provides a summary report of participant discussions from that session. Over 30 participants with varied experiences of makerspaces contributed to the discussion. Importantly, before discussions got underway, practitioners from three local makerspaces gave presentations: Vanessa Carpenter from Illutron Collaborative Interactive Art Studio in Copenhagen; Michael Hviid Nielsen from Copenhagen FabLab; and Oyuki Matsumoto from STPLN Open House Makerspace in Malmö.

From the Grassroots Innovations website:

"As designers and social scientists, we see FabLabs, Hackerspaces and other makerspaces as sites where people are experimenting with grassroots digital fabrication in a wide variety of forms, and where reflections by practitioners provide valuable insights to our developing understanding of making and consuming. We wanted to explore some of the claims being made for these spaces with a mix of practitioners and researchers with either direct experience with makerspaces, or related experience with contrasting sites of public engagement in knowledge production and material experimentation, such as science shops. So we invited the presentations and discussions to consider issues of creativity, inclusion and sustainability in makerspaces.

The key message from the World Café, in our view, is that providing facilities, tools, and even technical assistance and training is only one aspect to creating a makerspace. Establishing the culture within and its position in the world is what makes the space. In doing that, there are complex interactions between the people and things involved, and also between the space and the wider social and material world. Were makerspace managers and supporters to choose to pursue goals for creativity, inclusion and sustainability, then they will need to attend to those internal and external social and material relationships, and the deeper and broader forces that underpin and shape those relationships. As such, the ways makerspaces might contribute to goals of creativity, inclusion and sustainability, will depend upon their material cultures and the political economies that frame and shape making possibilities."
  • Download the briefing: Research Briefing 23 (pdf) by Adrian Smith and Sabine Hielscher (SPRU), Sascha Dickel (Technical University Munich), Ellen van Oost (University of Twente), Johan Søderberg (IFRIS)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

On the benefits of walking and talking

The STEPS Centre Summer School kicked off yesterday, with 38 students from 25 countries meeting at IDS for two weeks of intensive debate and discussion.

Tomorrow, after a short lecture on ‘uncertainty’, they’ll take a long walk over the South Downs, talking to each other around a set of guiding questions. This builds on a strong tradition of ‘walkshops’ pioneered in Norway, as described in this 2014 paper by Wickson, Strand and Kjølberg. In theory, the walk opens up the workshop format, adding energy and breaking down the traditional patterns of interaction.

From the abstract:
“Through walkshops, we have spent several days walking together with our colleagues and students in open outdoor spaces, keeping a sustained intellectual discussion on ethical aspects of science, technology and innovation while moving through these landscapes. For us, this has generated useful opportunities to escape established hierarchies, roles and patterns of thought and to rethink conceptual and philosophical issues from new perspectives, under new attitudes and with renewed energy.”

Less recently, the French writer Montaigne also had something to say on the virtues of walking for opening up creative thinking:

“Every place of retirement requires a walk: my thoughts sleep if I sit still: my fancy does not go by itself, as when my legs move it: and all those who study without a book are in the same condition.”

Could walking be a cure for stale thinking? Let’s hope so.

STEPS Centre Summer School 2014

The STEPS Centre Summer School brings together an exceptional group of people who are exploring and developing ideas on building pathways to sustainability. Through a mix of lectures, walks, discussions and public events, participants challenged the STEPS team and each other on questions of science, society and development.
The story of the 2013 STEPS Summer School
You can follow the Summer School on Twitter via #stepssum14 or by the Storify stream, which will tell the story of the two weeks in words and images.

Access to $1000 credit: would this help unleash agricultural commercialisation in Zimbabwe?

One of the repeated complaints of farmers on the new resettlements is the lack of access to finance. This is holding back commercialisation, particularly for A2 farmers with bigger plots but also for those on A1 farms eager to expand, intensify or diversify. All of this needs money, and it is in short supply.

In our studies of farmers' fortunes in Masvingo, and more recently in the tobacco growing areas of Mazowe, as part of the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project, we identify three standard pathways of agricultural commercialisation, each associated with different sources of finance. All are limiting, and available only to a few, or relate only to particular commodities.

The first route is through regular accumulation, investment and saving. This is tough, given all the other demands on funds, and requires real tenacity. Each year profits have to be sunk back into the farm, and new equipment purchased. This is a route we see in the vegetable farmers of Masvingo who by making use of water resources, investing initially in a small pump, have expanded their production and marketing significantly, and after a few years are able to upgrade, with new irrigation equipment, the purchase of pick-up trucks and so on. The regularity and reliability of income from horticulture (if the water is available and the pests can be kept at bay) helps drive this pathway to commercialisation. Some farmers have been very successful, now with turnovers of tens of thousands of dollars, employing large numbers of people and with transport businesses on the side. And all from an initial outlay of a few hundred dollars.

The second route is investment from external income sources. Getting going in farming is often the hardest part, like many businesses. Basic up-front investment is necessary. For A2 farmers with quite large plots – up to 100 or 200 ha – making productive use of this land really requires substantial capital investment. Most such farms were formerly ranches in our study areas in Masvingo, and had limited infrastructure. Those farmers that inherited dams and irrigation equipment were lucky, but most did not. A2 farmers tended to have jobs in town, or at least good connections. These were crucial in getting going. But in the economic crisis period, standard government jobs were not enough to live on let alone provide additional income for investing in farming. Those who were able to get going usually had NGO jobs paying on foreign exchange, or had connections overseas. This diaspora and employment money was recycled and invested in farms. Such farmers, unlike their neighbours, were able to rebuild or rehabilitate irrigation schemes, build dairies and farm sheds, as well as purchasing transport – the ubiquitous 1 tonne truck – to facilitate marketing.

The third route we have identified is of course via contract farming. This is important for crops such as tobacco, but also cotton, and through a different arrangement, sugar. This means the farmer does not have to pay for inputs up front, and the contracting company will supply seed, fertiliser, pesticides and other inputs and also take care of the marketing. Increasingly cash-strapped farmers are hooking up with contractors for other crops, including maize. I have been amazed how many readers of this blog get in touch, and ask to be put in touch with a contractor for selling their crop. There is clearly a massive demand for this intermediary function, where those with cash and capital can invest in farming without taking on the burden of actually owning or holding land or producing. Former white farmers are heavily involved, as well as the new black business elite, alongside the standard cotton and tobacco companies, and of course the estates. The terms of the contract may be one-sided, with the risk pushed towards the producer, as discussed in earlier blogs, but contract farming does release cash, in the absence of any other source.

It is this absence of any other source of finance that is striking across our case studies. Rural financial institutions simply are unable to respond. Some say this is due to the lack of collateral due to the land tenure system, but this is red herring in my view, given the possibility of loaning with all sorts of other security beyond freehold tenure. Surely the new farmers who are desperate for finance would open up commercial possibilities for banks and other finance providers. But the financial sector is very conservative in Zimbabwe, being used to a very different structure of agriculture and form of finance. They do not know their new client base and have few incentives to offer new financial products.

Rural finance in Zimbabwe thus has a massive missing middle ground – between the miniscule forms of finance offered by savings clubs and rotating loans schemes promoted by church groups and NGOs and the large lumpy finance offered through the conventional routes. While there have been some state-backed attempts at improving the situation, they have often foundered due to complex bureaucracy, absurd conditions and lack of outreach. The type of finance offered by banks is largely irrelevant to most new farmers (see Tables 4 and 7 in this Finmark report from 2012)

While I have little knowledge the type of business models that would work, my bet is that a company, perhaps initially supported by a development organisation, that could offer a US$1000 loan on flexible terms would have massive uptake and success. This is the sort of amount that is needed, sufficient to buy a decent pump and irrigation kit, sufficient for a down-payment on a second-hand pick up, sufficient to get going on a commercial chicken project, sufficient to buy a beast or two, or some basic farm equipment. This would make all the difference (and there are now some examples supported by USAID and others). It is standard in Asia for example, so why not in Zimbabwe?

While the three pathways to commercialisation noted above are great if your crop is contracted, if you have close ties to someone with a well-paid job, or if you farm a commodity that gives quick, reliable returns, and you can manage to save. But this is not everyone, or every type of agriculture. Today commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe is being held back, and rural finance is probably the biggest blockage.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Resilience 2014: Planetary boundaries, politics and pathways

How can we build development pathways that enhance sustainability and resilience, integrating ecological integrity, social equality, human rights, well-being and security? That was the tough question at the centre of Professor Melissa Leach’s presentation at the Resilience 2014 conference in Montpellier, France, this morning.

Prof. Leach, former STEPS Centre Director and new IDS Director, opened the second day of the conference in a plenary dialogue with Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC). She put forward ideas for challenging unsustainable and unjust development pathways, opening up to appreciate alternatives and enabling and supporting transformational pathways based on the STEPS Centre’s pathways approach and 3Ds agenda. You can view her presentation here:

A interesting commentary about the session was posted by Prof. Joern Fischer of the Institute for Ecology at Leuphana University Lueneburg, on his Ideas for Sustainability blog Development AND resilience vs. development OR resilience.
And if you would like to read more about the work the STEPS Centre and SRC have done together, combining our approaches, have a read of Between social and planetary boundaries: Navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity, authored by Profs. Leach and Rockström and economist Kate Raworth, as part of the World Social Science report 2013.

Diaspora direct investment: funding farming in Zimbabwe

Breaking out of the rut of donor or government dependence in development has long been a mantra, but how to do it? Of course remittances provide huge resources but these tend to be channelled to support individuals and households rather than collective investments. How to mobilise funds at a wider scale for broader projects is a challenge.

A new initiative is trying to do this, focusing on farming projects in Matabeleland. Mobilising the resources of Zimbabweans and others in the diaspora is the aim. The project is run from an organisation called 'The Global Native' based in Leeds in the UK. It has partnerships in Zimbabwe with Foundations for Farming that supports conservation agriculture, and a business venture focused on a tomato canning plant.

They are urging people to invest in 'community shares' that offer a 5% return. These funds are being put towards capital investment, notably trucks for transport. The overall narrative is that supporting farmers – turning Matabeleland green – is an important development investment that can bring sufficient returns for savers in the diaspora, at the same time as them gaining better links with their home and contributed to much-needed development in a neglected part of the country.

The initiative is linked to various church groups, NGOs as well as private businesses in Zimbabwe, including a game ranching operation and a provident society. A new network is being created between local farm businesses and the diaspora in towns such as Leeds. Fundraising events are being held in the UK to support the effort.

I cannot vouch for the initiative, nor for the projects that the organisation is involved in. I have expressed my doubts about the gardening technique 'conservation agriculture' on anything but the smallest plots before on this blog. It is unlikely to produce the type of agricultural transformation that is claimed, although may be useful for certain people with small garden areas that can benefit for labour based intensification. Equally the expansion of greenhouses for tomato production in Matabeleland at the scale envisaged may be a long-shot, given the challenges with this sort of horticulture, and its marketing.

But my interest was sparked less by the projects themselves but the overall vision of raising finance for wider development activities. There has been a tradition of 'diaspora direct investment' in Latin America, and the home town associations of West Africa, and indeed many other parts of the world, are well known sources of development finance. Zimbabwe's rural economies have long been supported by remittances, increasingly from diaspora sources. During the crisis period, diaspora financial flows to Zimbabwe amounted to around $900m per annum. This continues, but is shifting to a wider array of investments. As part of the 'long haul' to recovery that the excellent recent Chatham House report outlines, diaspora remittance and investment flows are going to be crucial.

In Zimbabwe because of the different relationships between the diaspora and those in Zimbabwe, and the shorter time these interactions have evolved, these sort of interactions are not so common. More frequent have been the usual Western Union mediated remittance flows to elderly relatives or for the payment of school fees, the purchase of fertiliser and seeds or the buying of animals. Alternatively support has existed for opposition groups and other political activism, but wider collective development has not been a big theme.

Perhaps this initiative signals a change, involving both the maturing of the diaspora community, and a recognition that the relationship with Zimbabwe must shift to a longer term local developmental investment rather than the expectation that political change will deliver this. And of course as time passes, the diaspora communities have a different age profile (see some of the excellent 'diaspora studies' focusing on Zimbabwe, for example here and here). Some of those in their twenties involved in the Leeds-based group were small kids when they left Zimbabwe, and their experiences and associations are more in the UK than 'home'. They thus link with others from the UK and other diaspora communities in churches, community groups and UK-based development charities to work on such efforts.

For Zimbabwe such initiatives may offer a next generation alternative after the crisis and isolation of the 2000s, and the aid and state dependence of the post-Independence period.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Peasants & Politics: new free articles from the Journal of Peasant Studies

JPS coverA new Journal of Peasant Studies special issue focusing on Peasants & Politics is out now, part of the JPS's series celebrating its 40th anniversary.

This new collection highlights some of the key articles that have been published in the journal over the past four decades on peasant politics. The articles are free to access from the JPS website until 31 December 2014.

From the website:
"The articles share one common feature: they all remain extremely relevant, especially in the context of today's massive, worldwide revival of critical agrarian studies. We hope academics will find the virtual special issue useful in their courses. We hope students of contemporary critical agrarian studies and critical environmental studies, among others, will find it useful in building their theoretical foundations. We hope policy practitioners will find it relevant in informing policy debates. We hope agrarian, food and environmental activists will find it relevant in their political struggles."

JPS: Peasants and Politics Virtual Special Issue